Our Petition

Our Petition | Background

In 1997, most of the Masoala peninsula in Madagascar was declared a strictly protected national park. The Masoala National Park has swallowed up some of the land that local communities are using to grow food or were intending to pass on to their children for them to grow food. This reduction of cultivable land is a big problem for many farming families rendering them even poorer than they were before.

Moreover, in several areas the park management has in the past years advanced the park’s de facto boundary so that the park now incorporates even more land than at first. In one community where this has happened – in violation of a written contract between the park management and the local population – the latter have written a letter of complaint asking for the park’s agreed boundary to be respected. This was a year ago. The letter has remained unanswered and without effect.

We have therefore launched a petition giving support to this community’s struggle for the basic human right to have enough land to grow food on.

New Book on Nature Conservation in Masoala

Attachment: book

13 March 2015

Eva Keller, founder of Human Rights in Masoala, has been working for many years on a social anthropological research project concerning perceptions of nature conservation in Masoala. Her book BEYOND THE LENS OF CONSERVATION. MALAGASY AND SWISS IMAGINATIONS OF ONE ANOTHER has now been published.

This is what the book’s about:

Nowadays, items of every kind are being driven, shipped and flown around the world. In December, Swiss supermarkets sell Malagasy litchies while the people in Madagascar use Nestlé’s empty condensed milk tins as measuring cups for rice and almost any other non-liquid item. However, not only goods travel the world but also ideas, values and visions which become articulated in global agendas. Nature conservation is one such very prominent contemporary agenda leading to innumerable conservation projects all around the world. The Masoala National Park is one such project, administered by the Malagasy authorities and an US-based conservation NGO and heavily supported by the zoo in Zurich.

The key question that is addressed in the book is this: Does such a cooperation between conservation actors in Switzerland and in Madagascar trigger a connection between people living in these two far-flung places? Does the project provide a bridge of contact between them? In order to answer this question, Eva Keller examines the Masoala National Park from two different points of view: from that of visitors to the Swiss zoo exhibit about the park, on the one hand, and that of Malagasy farmers living at the park’s edge, on the other. What do people in Switzerland and what do people in Madagascar “see” when they look at this particular nature conservation project? Is there anything like a shared view, a shared vision? Unfortunately, the answer is “no”. From the point of view of those who look from Switzerland towards Madagascar through the lens of nature conservation, the  farmers in Masoala appear as ignorant and deficient. From the point of view of the farmers who look at the park through the lens of Malagasy culture, on the other hand, those who support the park appear as being ill-disposed towards them. Thus, instead of building a bridge, nature conservation in Masoala widens the gap between people in the global North and South.

At the moment, the book is only being published in hardback ($95 / £60). However, during the month of March 2015, you can order it at a discount of 50%. Please find the order form here: https://www.berghahnbooks.com/extras/docs/flyer/KellerBeyond_9781782385523.html

Also, the publisher (Berghahn) is happy to discuss substantial discounts for university bookstores to enable the book being used in teaching. Please contact Ben Parker: [email protected]

Answers to our petition

 

Our online petition “Respect basic human rights in Masoala, Madagascar” has up to date been signed by 314 people from around the world. After we had received 300 signatures, we informed the deputy of the district of Maroantsetra, the Director of the Masoala National Park and the head of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Madagascar about the petition. Within a short time we received detailed answers by the park director and by the head of WCS Madagascar.

The park director denies in her answer that anything should ever have taken place that was not compliant with the relevant laws, and she emphasises that the park management has never received any complaints from local people. She admonishes us for having spread false information. She also writes that upon having heard of our petition, two special “missions” were sent out into the field, one including a high-ranking government representative (the Chef Cantonnement Forestier du District de Maroantsetra) and that there were no complaints whatsoever either.

In this answer is hidden the well-known tactic of intimidation. A lot of people in the countryside in Madagascar are generally speaking afraid of the state as it rarely brings anything good for them. This is why only few would dare to voice, as individuals, complaints in front of an official delegation such as was sent to investigate our concerns. The letter of complaint addressed to the Deputy was, tellingly, not signed by any individuals other than the president of the political relevant political unit. It was a collective complaint.

The head of WCS Madagascar confirms in her answer that there have been complaints by local populations concerning the park’s boundary in various places over the past years. She also confirms that the present zoning map, which defines 80% of the peninsula as not usable for agricultural purposes, leaves little room for local people. She informs us that the zoning plan will expire this year and will thus be reconsidered, and the expresses her hope that this will solve the present conflicts. She emphasises, however, that WCS is only a financial and technical partner of the Masoala National Park and that it therefore is not in a position to  make any decisions.

We will stay tuned to the issue that the people in the village of Marofototra complained about in their letter to the Deputy and which gave rise to our petition, and we hope that their needs and rights will finally be taken seriously!

Update on our Petition

Our online petition “Respect basic human rights in Masoala, Madagascar” has up to date been signed by 318 people from around the world. After we had received 300 signatures, we informed the Deputy of the district of Maroantsetra, the Director of the Masoala National Park and the head of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Madagascar about the petition. Within a short time we received detailed answers by the park director and by the head of WCS Madagascar.

We have been informed that this year will see a reassessment of the land utilisation plan in connection with Protected Areas in the whole of Madagascar. This is very good news as it is a rare opportunity to change things for the better for local populations.

We have also been informed that the Deputy of the district in which the concerned village lies (district of Maroantsetra) held a meeting on 26/27 April 2016 in order to discuss with high-ranking government staff the issue of local people’s land rights. This, too, is very encouraging indeed.

We will stay tuned to the issue that the people in the village of Marofototra raised in their letter to the Deputy and which gave rise to our petition, and we hope that their needs and rights will  find adequate consideration.

Eva Keller, President of the Association, 06/06/2016

New book on Nature Conservation in Masoala

Eva Keller, founder of Human Rights in Masoala, has been working for many years on a social anthropological research project concerning perceptions of nature conservation in Masoala. Her book BEYOND THE LENS OF CONSERVATION. MALAGASY AND SWISS IMAGINATIONS OF ONE ANOTHER has now been published.

http://www.berghahnbooks.com/title.php?rowtag=KellerBeyond

This is what the book’s about:

Nowadays, items of every kind are being driven, shipped and flown around the world. In December, Swiss supermarkets sell Malagasy litchies while the people in Madagascar use Nestlé’s empty condensed milk tins as measuring cups for rice and almost any other non-liquid item. However, not only goods travel the world but also ideas, values and visions which become articulated in global agendas. Nature conservation is one such very prominent contemporary agenda leading to innumerable conservation projects all around the world. The Masoala National Park is one such project, administered by the Malagasy authorities and an US-based conservation NGO and heavily supported by the zoo in Zurich.

The key question that is addressed in the book is this: Does such a cooperation between conservation actors in Switzerland and in Madagascar trigger a connection between people living in these two far-flung places? Does the project provide a bridge of contact between them? In order to answer this question, Eva Keller examines the Masoala National Park from two different points of view: from that of visitors to the Swiss zoo exhibit about the park, on the one hand, and that of Malagasy farmers living at the park’s edge, on the other. What do people in Switzerland and what do people in Madagascar “see” when they look at this particular nature conservation project? Is there anything like a shared view, a shared vision? Unfortunately, the answer is “no”. From the point of view of those who look from Switzerland towards Madagascar through the lens of nature conservation, the farmers in Masoala appear as ignorant and deficient. From the point of view of the farmers who look at the park through the lens of Malagasy culture, on the other hand, those who support the park appear as being ill-disposed towards them. Thus, instead of building a bridge, nature conservation in Masoala widens the gap between people in the global North and South.

Eva Keller, 13 March 2015

Book cover

New Report on Land Grabbing in Madagascar

LAND GRABBING IN MADAGASCAR. ECHOES AND TESTIMONIES FROM THE FIELD is a new comprehensive report over current land grabbing projects in different regions in Madagascar. These include land grabs to produce food or medicinal plants for export, to produce biofuel, to produce timber through reforestation or to extract minerals from the soil.

The report is the result of a cooperation between the Collectif pour la Défense des Terres Malgaches-TANY, the civil society organisations platform Solidarité des Intervenants sur le Foncier-SIF and the Italian association Re:Common and is based on two months of observations on the ground and interviews with directly concerned people in 2013.

Next to the various case studies, the report provides a very good overview of the legal framework with regard to land ownership and rights to use land in Madagascar. The report is available both in French and in English.

To access the report (which is an easy read despite its length)

– in English click here

– in French click here

Refusing farmers’ humanity

Malagasy farmers are often said to be engaged in agricultural practices that will inevitably lead to the eventual destruction of the exceptional natural environment where they live. In order to prevent such a scenario, it is expected that they should always keep in mind the long-term effects of their subsistence practices. They are expected, for example, to desist from slash-and-burn cultivation because, it is argued, if households continue to engage in this practice, there will be no forest left in a hundred or two hundred years from now.

This type of reasoning fails to recognise fundamentally human aspirations that guide all our lives and that are recognised as legitimate in industrialised societies. Would we, for example, expect a father of three to reject a good job in a Swiss bank because it is known to finance unsustainable practices? We would not. In such a case we would recognise that individuals as human beings are driven by personal aspirations and desires; we would acknowledge the personal circumstances and opportunities behind such a decision.

By contrast, conservation programs often demand of Malagasy farmers, though usually not explicitly, that they sacrifice opportunities to create a livelihood for their children and grandchildren for the sake of saving the life of trees or lemurs. This is to fail to recognise the Malagasy as human beings driven, as we all are, by their personal aspirations and caught up in the complex business of organising life. In this sense, it is to refuse their humanity.

In his essay Marrakech George Orwell writes about the invisibility of the colonised:
‘The people have brown faces – besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects? (…)  In a tropical landscape one’s eye takes in everything except the human beings. It takes in the dried-up soil, the prickly pear, the palm tree and the distant mountain, but it always misses the peasant hoeing at his patch’ (Orwell 1981[1939]: 181, 184).

To expect Malagasy farmers to refrain from clearing a piece of land in order to create productive land for their children implies overlooking the humanity of those in whose lives we allow ourselves to interfere when, for example, we urge the prohibition of slash-and-burn cultivation.

Malagasy agricultural practices are oriented towards the future: they are geared towards the livelihood of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who, in turn, will take the place of their progenitors and continue the endeavour of creating productive land for future generations. To expect farmers to refrain from making a swidden because a thousand swiddens might eventually cause the natural environment to change is to forget that nowhere in the world do human beings – neither Swiss bankers nor Malagasy subsistence farmers – plan their own lives in view and consideration of such long-term goals.

Eva Keller, 4 December 2012